DSW Joins Community Organizers at a Trans/Sex Workers Rights Mixer

October 4, 2019

The New York State Gender Diversity Coalition convened at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar to exchange ideas about how to support gender diversity, equality, and sex worker rights in New York. This new coalition of sex workers’ rights and LGBTQIA* activists highlights the important overlap between DSW’s mission and the rights and safety of the LGBTQ community.

The event was organized by The New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) and The Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute, co-directed by Melissa Broudo and Crystal DeBoise of DSW. NYTAG and SOAR have a veritable history of fighting for both of these communities in the New York area and beyond. DSW was honored and excited to join them at this event.

Activists march for sex-worker and trans rights in Stockholm, Sweden, in October 2019. (Photo: Twitter/SWARM)

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele join with the organizers and attendees of the Brooklyn event.

This alliance continues to be incredibly important to the policy we are striving towards. On October 2, LGBTQ advocates in Washington, DC, delivered a letter to DC Council members advocating for the full decriminalization of sex work on the grounds that it is “critical to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ community.” There will be a hearing on October 17 in DC on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. If passed, the bill will decriminalize sex work in our nation’s capital. Kaytlin Bailey will testify at the hearing.

Historic Prison Reform in NYC

September 5, 2019

DSW joined a crowd gathered outside NYC’s city hall to attend a hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inner-borough jail expansion plan. Although the city council’s Criminal Justice committee had invited DSW’s Melissa Broudo to testify, she decided to let allies closer to the issue speak at the hearing. Nevertheless, we felt honored to participate in this historic moment in NYC’s criminal justice history. The hearing followed the City Planning Commission’s 9-3 vote to approve the mayor’s contested proposal, first laid out in 2017, pushing it into the final stage of the city’s land use review process.

The multi-billion-dollar plan would shutter Rikers Island, a sure victory for human rights and criminal justice reform in New York City, and follows efforts to reduce the city’s incarcerated population from 7,400 to 4,000 by 2026 using criminal justice reforms. De Blasio believes his plan will bring New York “one step closer to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, fairer jail system … bringing people back to their communities and families,” helping to combat recidivism and mass incarceration. However, designs to construct new 1,150-bed jails in four of the city’s five boroughs have raised concerns from community members, social justice activists and borough presidents over the location of the new prisons, continued police abuse and an overall lack of engagement with communities in drafting the plan.

Close Rikers Now is a NYC grassroots campaign that has fought long and hard against a broken prison system in New York City and its history of violence and abuse against largely minority inmates. The organization supports the mayor’s plan, with caveats, while others, like No New Jails NYC, oppose it on the grounds that the new plan will replace one broken system with another. Brittany Williams, a community organizer for the organization, is quoted in The New York Times asserting that “the city has failed for decades to hold themselves accountable for how people are being treated once they are incarcerated.” There is also concern over the lack of legally binding mechanisms to ensure follow-through on the shuttering of Rikers, and the historic 75% decrease in the New York’s incarcerated population, after Mayor De Blasio leaves office. 

At the protests outside of city hall, DSW Project Manager Frances Steele stood with the No New Jails Coalition as they chanted “If they build them, they will fill them.” Sex workers’ rights are incredibly relevant to the issues raised by the current jail system debate in New York. DSW is encouraged by the decarceration efforts and community activism taking place across the city. We support the commitment to give New York City residents in all five boroughs the justice, health and safety they deserve and end mass incarceration.

Demonstrators from No New Jails NYC stand outside City Hall on Sept. 5 to protest Mayor DeBlasio’s borough-based jail system plan. (Photo: Frances Steele/DSW, 2019)

Charges were brought that capacities at the hearings were kept purposefully low to keep out protestors against the construction of the new prison system. (Photo: Elizabeth Kim/Instagram, 2019)

Nevertheless She Existed: Kaytlin Bailey Presents a Sex Worker From History

July 31, 2019

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey participated in Nevertheless She Existed, a live show and podcast produced at Caveat Theater. She told the story of Phryne, a famous courtesan in the classical Greek period who defended herself against blasphemy charges by disrobing in front of the all-male jury and declaring her perfect body a gift from the gods. She won her case.

This show specifically highlighted the contribution sex workers have been making to their communities for literally all of human history. Junior Mintt reminded us what an undeniable powerhouse Josephine Baker was in her lifetime. Solange Azor talked about one of the founding mothers of the sex worker rights movement, Margo St. James, who created COYOTE, and Anna Bianco talked about the incredible achievements of Theodora, who became empress of Rome in 527 after spending some time in a brothel in the Roman Empire.

Kylie Holloway, Kaytlin Bailey, Junior Mintt, Anna Bianco, Solange Azor & Molly Gaebe at Caveat Theater perform for Nevertheless She Existed (from L to R, July 31, 2019).

Queer Liberation March: Pride Without Barriers in NYC

June 30, 2019

DSW attended the Queer Liberation March and political rally that followed on June 30, organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The march took place on the same day as the NYC Pride Parade, which also hosted World Pride this year, but without corporate sponsors or police officers present. The Reclaim Pride Coalition, represented in a WBUR interview by their attorney and former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Normal Siegel, wants to ensure that Stonewall50 lives up to the original spirit and intent of the first marchers in the June 1969 uprising: "the freedom to be who you are and to take pride in that." The message of the Queer Liberation March is to stand "in solidarity with other oppressed groups, to demand social and economic justice worldwide."

Reclaim Pride Coalition Art Build

The Wednesday before Pride, the coalition hosted an art build in which all kinds of activists got their heads and hearts together to make art, signs, posters and banners for the Queer Liberation March and Rally. The build united criminalized bodies against corporate control, erasure, and violence and provided an understanding of the breadth of the movement and the identities for whom it holds significance. DSW Communications Director Kaytlin Bailey attended and collaborated on two signs representing our message: “Listen to sex workers” and “Prostitution isn’t the problem, it’s the patriarchy.”

The Rally: Rights and Safety for All

Well before the march started, crowds had gathered at Sheridan Square, holding signs and sporting black, pink and gold attire. The energy and love in the streets was breathtaking. The march took place along the historic root, up Sixth Avenue and into Central Park, where a First Amendment political rally took place from 1-4pm, addressing the biases, homophobia and stereotyping of the LGBTQIA community that persist today. As the crowd walked up town, a moment of silence was held at 11am to commemorate those in the LGBTQIA* community lost to violence, stigma, racism, HIV/AIDS, and lack of access to safety or health care, particularly trans women of color.

The coalition wants to highlight that, though progress has been made, the queer and trans communities, especially individuals of color, are still stereotyped, harassed and criminalized on a day-to-day basis. The march was open to the public, without sidewalk barriers or police presence. It concluded on the great lawn of Central Park. The rally hosted speakers, performers and a display of the artwork that community members and allies had made for the event. Speakers included Larry Kramer and Jason Walker from ACT UP, Black Trans Media Representatives Sasha Alexander and Olympia Sudan, and many more. DSW feels so privileged to have been able to participate and see the wonderful community this march created.

Queer Liberation March route (reclaimpridenyc.org)

Marchers on Sixth Avenue in NYC. (photo: Leandro Justin)

DSW's Communications Director Kaytlin Bailey stands with all criminalized bodies—immigrants, trans people, black & brown people, the LGBTQ community & sex workers—at the Queer Liberation March on the Great Lawn at Central Park (June 30, 2019).

“Gay Panic” Defense Can No Longer Be Used to Excuse Murder, a Win for Trans Sex Workers

Just before the June 30, 2019, kickoff of the World Pride March in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed A2707, a new law that bans the "gay and transgender panic" defense from being used in murder cases prosecuted in New York State. The panic defense has historically been utilized to lessen charges in the case that the defendant alleges his or her violent actions with in response to the unwanted advances of someone of the same sexual orientation. The defense has also been used in the murder trials of transgender victims. New York is the sixth state to ban the use of such a defense, the first being California in 2014.

In 1944, 19-year-old Lucien Carr used it to excuse the murder of 33-year-old David Kammerer, whom he stabbed in Riverside Park and dumped into the Hudson River. Carr alleged that Kammerer had been following him around the country making continual, unwanted sexual advances. His killing was depicted in the media as an honorable response to such a threat. Though convicted of murder, Carr pled guilty to a lessened charge of manslaughter and served only two years. The defense has been used dozens of times since then, as an outgrowth of the traditional legal doctrine of "provocation," or that the victim is partially responsible for a crime by eliciting it through some offensive action (Suk Gersen, 2019).

The memory of institutionalized violence against the LGBTQIA community lingered as the world commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 30. In 2018, a federal bill to ban the "gay and trans panic" defense nationwide died in a U.S. House committee. The New York bill is a step towards protecting the health, safety, and very humanity of every individual in the United States, but we still have a long way to go.

The #DecriminalizeSexWork movement has played a vital role in speaking out about the criminalization of trans and queer bodies, especially for women of color and those involved in the sex trade. Grassroots activism has been vital to the passage of this bill. We are fighting against the unjustifiable deaths of those who are most vulnerable, such as Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old transgender woman who died in her jail cell on June 7 at Rikers, where she was being held, unable to make a $500 bail resulting from a prostitution arrest in August 2017. Polanco is the tenth transgender woman of color to be found dead in the U.S. in 2019. Decriminalization is necessary to combat state-sponsored violence, such as that condoned by the "gay panic" defense. Our path forward is to focus on public health and harm reduction and to stop the murders of innocent people.

After signing A2707 to ban “gay/trans panic” legal defense in NY, Gov. Cuomo marched in the New York City Pride parade. (photo: Brittany Newman/NYT, 2019)

New York Legislator To Introduce “Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act” – June 10, 2019

Protesters advocate for the full decriminalization of sex work in New York State. (Photo: Rolling Stone)
On June 10, Assemblywoman Julia Salazar, in tandem with local coalition DecrimNY, announced that she would be introducing a series of bills in the NY legislature that would fully decriminalize sex work in New York State. While it usually takes years to enact legislation into law, the mere introduction of the NY legislation fits with the trend of good legislation that has been introduced in states like NH, RI, and HI this year — something we haven't seen in decades of organizing.

 

International Whores Day Anniversary Celebration – June 2, 2019

Several of the attendees at the Celebration Picnic in Brooklyn on June 2.

On June 2, 1975, more than 200 street-based sex workers in Lyon, France, occupied the church of St. Nazier to protest police corruption and brutality. They hung a banner declaring, in French, “Our Children Do Not Want Their Mothers in Jail.” Every year since then, sex workers and their allies have celebrated the continued survival and resistance we continue to face.

In New York City this year, DSW hosted a picnic in northern Brooklyn that approximately 40 people attended. Occupying public spaces and celebrating is an act of resistance that honors the hundreds of sex workers who occupied a sanctuary and inspired millions of future activists to do the same.

“Black Trans Lives Matter!!” Rally at Washington Square Park

Protesters stand for justice for black trans women at Washington Square Park in New York City on May 24.

May 24: New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) held a rally in Washington Square Park to honor the three black trans women who were killed this year within a span of eight days. DSW stands in solidarity with trans women of color who are fighting and dying on the front lines of the war against sex workers. We joined a coalition of organizations in New York to draw attention to violence against members of the trans community, many of whom are impacted by the criminalization and increased surveillance of the sex trade.

When we listen to sex workers and stop the arrests, we free up marginalized members of our community to advocate for safer working conditions and enable them to report violence against them, reducing the violence. Decriminalizing sex work is a crucial first step toward creating a society in which we are all free to be our authentic selves without shame or stigma.

On Memorial Day Weekend, Trans Lives Remembered (Gay City News, May 26, 2019)

DSW Hosts Unity Reception in NYC

May 2, 2019

DSW hosted a delightful evening that was both a celebration and a rallying cry at the Cornell Club in NYC. With exquisite performances by Essence Revealed and sweet jams by DJ Mikey Palms, speakers included Dame Catherine Healy (from New Zealand), Ceyenne Doroshow, and DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey. Activists, donors, and reporters came together to celebrate and commit to the long road ahead fighting for a future where we listen to sex workers and offer help — not handcuffs.

Our guest of honor, Dame Catherine Healy, is a former sex worker and lifelong activist who was bestowed the title “Dame” by Queen Elizabeth II for her successful campaign to decriminalize sex work in New Zealand. She has worked toward better working conditions for sex workers for over 20 years. She treated those gathered to some incredible insight and inspiring words. We will all look back on that night in the difficult years to come.

She came to the United States to meet with us and other activists to strategize and discuss her methods for achieving her legislative victories. In addition to joining us in New York, she also offered compelling testimony in Rhode Island and met with activists in San Francisco, Seattle, and Honolulu.

Essence Revealed wows the crowd of supporters May 2 at the Cornell Club.

Dame Catherine Healy wows the crowd with words of wisdom May 2 at the Cornell Club.

Kaytlin Bailey, Kat Timf, Ceyenne Doroshow and Lee Quan stand in solidarity for sex worker rights.

Essence Revealed strikes a pose with Ceyenne Doroshow at the Cornell Club on May 2.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey lets those gathered know who we are and what we’re trying to do on May 2 at the Cornell Club.

J Leigh Brantly, Melissa Broudo, Kaytlin Bailey, Crystal DeBoise, Avery Mauel, and Dame Catherine Healy on May 2 at the Cornell Club.

VIP With Erika Jayne

December 21, 2018

Melissa Broudo got to meet and greet Erika Jayne, one of DSW’s VIPs, when she recently played in Brooklyn, NY, on December 21, 2018. Melissa was able to thank her for her vocal support of sex workers on her show, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She is an inspiration to all people to live their greatest fantasies.

from L to R: Erika Jayne, Melissa Broudo